Loveland voters will decide June 24 whether to approve Question 1, which would impose a two-year fracking moratorium within the city’s borders in order to “fully study the impacts of hydraulic fracturing on property values and human health.”
Campaigns on both sides have kicked into gear as canvassers blanket neighborhoods with door-hangers and literature. Red “Time-out on Fracking” signs have sprouted up on lawns alongside blue “Support Safe Energy” banners.
Like Boulder, Broomfield, Fort Collins and Lafayette, which passed anti-fracking measures in November, Loveland currently has no fracking activity. A few years ago, however, Anadarko Petroleum expressed interest in drilling a handful of wells just inside the city’s eastern border along I-25.
Since then, Loveland has been embroiled in an ongoing debate on fracking. The city council enacted a nine-month moratorium in May 2012 to devise regulations on oil and gas development, which are based on the state’s toughest-in-the-nation rules but also include incentives for companies that agree to tighter restrictions.
That’s not enough for organizers of Protect Our Loveland, the group behind Question 1, who argue that a “timeout” is needed to ensure that fracking is truly safe.
“A lot of people don’t really know the process,” said POL volunteer Linda Sandahl in public comment at the May 20 city council meeting, adding, “People need to look it up and understand what could happen, what could happen down the road. We don’t want to be 10 years from now saying, ‘What the hell were we thinking?’”
The problem, say critics, is that Question 1 doesn’t actually require a study or explain how the city would pay for it. They point to years of studies by state and federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, that have found no groundwater contamination resulting from fracking.
What’s more, a city with a population of about 70,000 people isn’t equipped to conduct a sophisticated scientific examination of the magnitude called for in Question 1, said Andy Peterson, vice-president of Integrated Petroleum Technologies in Golden.
“The city of Loveland is not equipped to study the matter,” said Peterson, who’s also involved with the Loveland Energy Action Project, the group fighting the measure. “I would assume it would involve groundwater monitoring, epidemiological studies of affected populations . . . If the city has enough people to study the issue properly, then I maintain there’s too many people on staff.”
A closely divided Loveland City Council voted 5-4 at its May 20 meeting to oppose Question 1 after a heated late-night debate.
Mayor Pro Tem Dave Clark said the study was merely a ruse to disguise the measure’s true intent, namely a ban on oil-and-gas development.
“We’ve already had a two-year or more moratorium on this thing. Nothing’s happened,” said Clark. “The intent is not a moratorium, obviously. This group’s intent is a ban. I mean, it’s kind of obvious. They’re using this as a way to call a timeout—but they really want a ban.”
The Loveland Chamber of Commerce has come out against Question 1, saying it would discourage economic development and send an anti-business message. Loveland now has 52 companies with operations related to the oil-and-gas industry, said councilors.
Mindy McCloughan, CEO of the Loveland Chamber of Commerce, said the measure if passed would have a “drastic impact on Loveland and Northern Colorado’s economies.”
“The consequences of this moratorium, should it pass, could be thousands of dollars in legal fees, not to mention the enormous cost of the study, the potential loss of jobs and public revenue, and then of course just the stop of economic activity,” said McCloughan at the May 20 meeting.
Councilor Ralph Trenary said he didn’t buy the argument that companies would leave Loveland if the measure were to pass.
“Trying to imply that this citizen initiative is a permanent ban on hydraulic fracturing is false and misleading,” said Trenary. “Laying out innuendo of huge numbers of businesses that would abandon this community because of a two-year moratorium is misleading.”
Councilors who voted against the resolution opposing Question 1 argued in part that it would be inappropriate for the council to take a position on the issue.
“We have to assume that we have an informed electorate,” said councilor Phil Farley. “And I just don’t think it’s right for us to be able to dictate how people should vote.”
Countered councilor Hugh McKean, “We’re not. We’re not dictating anything. We’re telling people our position.”
The city could face lawsuits no matter which way the vote goes. Mayor Cecil Gutierrez, who voted against the resolution, said the council would figure out how to handle the aftermath of the election, whatever the outcome.
“Let them vote,” said Gutierrez. “However they vote, we’ll deal with it.”
Ballots are scheduled to be mailed June 2 in the special election, which is being conducted by the Loveland city clerk on the same day as the primary elections for state and federal office.